Blogs | Centre for Science and Environment


Solar energy not war

 If you know that a sector has arrived when it makes for trade wars between countries, then solar energy clearly has. Last year, the US imposed anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports of solar panels; now the EU has proposed the same. The Chinese have in turn threatened that they will take action against European exports of poly-silicon, the material used for manufacturing solar panels. In February this year, the US filed a case against India at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for “favouring sourcing of panels from domestic manufacturers”.

Ganga saga part II: redesign dams, not rivers

Engineers require re-training, not the Ganga. This is where I had left our conversation last fortnight. Why did I say this? The inter-ministerial committee I participated in as a member was discussing how much the ecological flow—the water that should be left in the river for ecosystem and livelihood purposes—should be at all times. How much water is needed for the river to be a river; and not a drain?

Training engineers, not Ganga

Hydropower is important. But how important? Is it important enough to dry up stretches of our rivers? Or is there a way to balance the need of energy with the imperative of a flowing, healthy river? I have been grappling with these issues for the past few months. But now that the committee (of which I was a member) on the hydropower projects on the Ganga has submitted its report, let me explain how I see the way ahead.

A green facade

Building green is definitely important. But equally important is to know how green is a green building. Take the glitzy, glass-enveloped buildings popping up across the country. It does not matter if you are in the mild but wet and windy climate of Bengaluru or in the extreme hot and dry climate of Gurgaon, glass is the in-thing. I have always wondered how buildings extensively using glass could work in such varied climatic zones, where one needs ventilation. Then, I started reading that glass was green. Buildings liberally using glass were being certified green. How come?

How do you like your food, sir?

My local vegetable vendor sells ordinary lemons packed in plastic bags. It got me thinking if this is a sign of improving standards of food safety and hygiene. After all if we go to any supermarket in the rich and food-processed world, we will find food neatly packed so that there is no contamination through human hands. Then there is the army of food inspectors, who check everything from the processing plant to the supplies in restaurants.

Wake up and smell the air

Our health is not on anybody’s agenda. Or, we just don’t seem to make the connections between the growing burden of disease and the deteriorating condition of our environment. We don’t really believe the science, which tells us each passing day how toxins affect our bodies, leading to high rates of both morbidity and mortality. It is true that it is difficult to establish cause and effect, but we know more than enough to say that air pollution is today a leading cause of both disease and death in India and other parts of South Asia.

Kumbh: time to come clean

Maha Kumbh in Allahabad has perhaps no parallel in terms of the sheer size of the congregation. In less than two months over 100 million people are expected to come to this city, which sees the confluence of two rivers of India—the Ganga and the Yamuna. People come to worship on the banks of the Ganga. Even as they celebrate the river it seems they don’t see the river, but only the ritual.

For a place in the sun

How will solar energy be made to work in India? As I discussed in my previous article there are three key challenges. One, how will the country pay for solar energy in a situation where there is no money to pay for even the crashed costs of installation. Two, what is the best model for the distribution and use of this relatively expensive energy in a country where millions still live in the dark? Three, how should India combine the twin objectives of supply of clean energy and creation of domestic manufacturing capacities?

Clouds over solar

India’s solar power policy is now entering round two. And there is much that needs to be reviewed and reworked as the business of solar energy has seen massive turbulence in India as well as globally. In the first phase (2010 to 2013) of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) the target was to set up 1,000-2,000 MW of grid-based solar power in the country. By 2013, the country has indeed commissioned some 1,000 MW of solar power, but 700 MW of this target comes from the non-JNNSM state of Gujarat.

A year of leadership failure

The last image of 2012 is protesters storming the bastion of Delhi, outraged at the brutal rape of a young girl and the culture of violence against women. This outburst by the educated middle class, many of them young women, was spontaneous as much as it was leaderless. But as we move to the next year, we need to think about the response of the government to this protest and others. We need to understand if the Indian state has any clue about what is going on under its nose—and feet.

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